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A Step Ahead: Football more familiar in FCS's second year

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Faith Christian School's Shaikey Hardy, shown during a game last season against Cary Christian School, is one of the key returners for the Patriots this season.

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BY Jessie H. Nunery
Telegram Correspondent

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

We’re nearing the end of our team-by-team look at the area’s upcoming high school football season. Tomorrow’s (final) edition will be Rocky Mount Prep. Expect more content leading up to the season, and look out for our season preview magazine, coming out August 16. 

What a difference a year makes.

From watching a player put on a girdle backward, to simply teaching linemen how to get into a proper stance, Faith Christian didn’t look like much of a football program last August.

It was the school’s first venture into varsity football, and there were times when practicing with a football wasn’t necessary.

There were too many other things like football terminology — and girdles — to solidify.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it — last year, it was a foreign language to us,” Patriots coach Russell Weinstein said. “Now, they understand what it means. We’re a year ahead of where we were, no doubt.”

This August is certainly different.

The Patriots walk out onto the football field looking and feeling like a different program. Faith Christian skipped most of the losing that usually accompanies a first-year program and finished 6-4 in 2017. Weinstein and the Patriots won their first four games.

They return to the field this fall with 28 varsity players, many of whom were consistent attendees to the program’s offseason weightlifting program. This group will take the field this fall with increased strength, looking more the part of a varsity program than it did last season.

The Patriots attended a trio of 7-on-7 scrimmage sessions during the summer against established public school programs including Tarboro, Wilson Fike and Roanoke Rapids.

Quarterback Sam Mills, running backs Shaikey Hardy and versatile athlete Hobart Brantley return to a more experienced offense that, despite a winning season, spent the entire year evolving into its current form.

“We’re starting at a completely different point,” senior Landon Lewis said. “Last year, we had to learn how to get into stances. Now we are going from one formation into another.”

Indeed, there isn’t a lot of wasted time.

A recent Patriots practice started 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. Each of the players were prepared and separated into four stations. Time wasn’t spent teaching formations, but rather perfecting what has become a routine.

With its increased depth, Faith Christian will have the luxury of playing only a few athletes on both offense and defense this season. An eight-game schedule begins with a pair of Virginia-based, eight-man programs before the Patriots enter conference play that includes rival and defending champion Rocky Mount Academy.

The Eagles knocked off the Patriots in the state playoffs last season, but another year of experience has the latter feeling confident.

“All of us feel we are good enough and have the drive to do well,” senior defensive back Garrett Pannell said. “If we play together as a team, we have a good shot.”

Expectations aren’t specific.

Weinstein said he wants to see his team improve daily. He said the toughness the Patriots showed last season served them well. His optimism is cautioned by the possibility of injuries.

“If I had seen us for the first time last year at this time, I wouldn’t have thought we would have won a game,” Weinstein said. “But when I found out they would work and work in the weight room, I felt like we’d win a game or two. I didn’t know we’d win six. I guess my expectations are higher than last year, but I think their expectations are higher, too.”

Last year: Lost to Rocky Mount Academy in the NCISAA 2-A state semifinals

Record: 6-4

43: Number of points in two losses the Patriots were outscored by rival RMA last season

16: Number of seniors Faith Christian has on roster this season

Key losses: Defensive lineman Nick Clark

Key returners: Running back Shaikey Hardy, quarterback Sam Mills, offensive lineman Connor Vick

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